Travel diaries: On board a cruise to the South Pacific

In the mood for some luxury sailing, followed by warm welcomes, beautiful beaches, heritage homes, bustling markets and lush landscapes?

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Once a year, I join a cruise to relax and recharge, to a destination that offers balmy tropical days, crimson sunsets, swaying coconut palms and golden sandy beaches. Last year it was Vanuatu and New Caledonia aboard the Celebrity Solstice, and this year having packed my most dazzling sarongs, flip flops and a few good books, I cruised further eastwards to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

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Joining the Celebrity Solstice in Auckland, I was welcomed with a glass of bubbly, escorted to my stateroom and immediately felt at home. For the relaxing days at sea, I enjoyed robust coffee and healthy breakfasts before visiting the well-equipped gym, walking a few laps around the exercise deck, and ending the morning with healthy salads for lunch. Afternoons were spent in the cosy library, and at the café where afternoon tea was a treat, offerings included mini lemon tarts and eclairs.

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For the evening cocktail, there are many bars to choose from and the dining options are all excellent, from Asian fusion to Italian, French and Japanese.

The sleek lines and sophisticated design of the Celebrity Solstice’s exterior are matched by interior decor that is elegant and contemporary. Staterooms are furnished with comfortable beds, a sitting area, vanity desk, ample wardrobe space, spacious bathrooms and a flat screen TV, and most have a balcony.

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There are a wide variety of shops on-board, offering clothing, high end accessories, jewellery including a Tiffany’s store, duty free cosmetics and alcohol. The pool deck is popular, with live music and activities happening while you work on a tan. The evening’s entertainment offers a wide range of performers to please everyone including comedians, magicians, singers, trapeze artists and musicians. On a large cruise ship such as the Celebrity Solstice, everything is provided for you.

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At each port, we were given a warm welcome; big brass marching bands in Fiji, and rhythmic dancers accompanied by singing and bands of musicians in Tonga and Samoa, always with a warm send-off of more music, dance and lots of waving.

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On arrival in Fiji, I joined a shore excursion to explore sights around Lautoka including Hindu temples, the bustling streets of Nadi, the garden of the sleeping giant established by the Hollywood actor Raymond Burr, and beautiful beaches. In Suva, an easy stroll led to the town centre, with the Museum, produce market and Indian spice shops all within walking distance.

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We then cruised to Apia, Samoa, where I visited the former home of the author Robert Louis Stevenson who settled here in 1889, filled with antiques and memorabilia, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, and vibrant market offering brightly coloured clothing, shell jewellery and souvenirs. A drive to the surrounding countryside was rewarded with lush tropical rainforests, waterfalls and stunning beaches, with a stop at Aggie Grey’s Hotel for a refreshing ale, the perfect way to end the day.

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At Pago Pago, American Samoa, it was like stepping back in time, with only a handful of tourists visiting each year. Our guide said this past year had been hectic with 9 cruise ships! In brightly painted open buses, decorated with red hibiscus flowers, we drove to a beautiful beach where we were entertained by guitar strumming musicians.

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The scenery is stunning with coconut palms, jagged rocky peaks, tropical rainforests and villages clinging to the shore-line around one of the world’s most dramatic natural harbours.

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In Tonga, we arrived at the town of Neiafu, on the mountainous island of Vava’u. With friendly locals, churches, handicraft stores, a market, cafes and bakeries, this was a very pleasant destination.

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At the capital, Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu, Talamahu market offers a wide range of souvenirs. There are cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours with long queues serving swirly bright green, pink and white ice-cream piled high onto cones. Our shore excursion took us to the Victorian style Royal Palace built in 1867, to Captain Cook’s landing site, ancient burial tombs, and drove past stunning stretches of coastline. Small farming plots appeared like a multi coloured patchwork growing different crops, lined with coconut, banana, breadfruit, and papaya trees. In each village, there are churches of several denominations and being Sunday, we listened to churchgoers, their melodious voices filling the air.

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Wherever we went, we received a warm welcome, with lots of waving and calls of hello, perhaps appreciative that we’d come so far to visit their beautiful unspoilt island home.

Travel Notebook

  • There is no easier way to get to a far-flung destination than on a cruise ship and there are many to choose from.
  • Talk with a CLIA accredited travel agent who knows about cruising, though Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International will not disappoint.
  • Celebrity Cruises will soon have two ships based in Australia, the Celebrity Solstice in Sydney and the Celebrity Eclipse in Melbourne.
  • Celebrity Cruises is well suited to adults, though it does cater for children with its Camp at Sea program focussing on educational, culinary and art experiences.
  • Royal Caribbean International is more energy-charged, offering many activities for children such as rock climbing walls, bumper cars and basketball.
  • Check your sailing for what activities are available.
  • Sign up for email alerts so you are the first to know about sales.
  • And for first time cruisers, these ships are big and are fitted with stabilisers so you won’t feel a ripple.